In many organizations, conflict is part and parcel of the culture — some conflict can be constructive, some destructive, but most of it can just be downright annoying. And, because we often sit right in the middle of all of the random agendas, battles of ego, and emotional storms that can rage throughout the company, Product Managers often wind up dealing with the outcome of these conflicts if we’re not pulled deeply into them by one or more of our stakeholders. And while it can often be tempting to take on all comers, to defend your territory and your teams to the bitter end, the sad truth is that all too often, these conflicts simply aren’t set up in a way for us to “win” — and seeking that extra mark in our “W” column can often be counterproductive rather than helpful in the long run. All of the best Product Managers know that sometimes when there’s a fight that you’re not going to win, it’s far more important to lose gracefully than it is to die on a hill for something that ultimately didn’t really matter much.
There’s a well-known theory in psychology known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, named after its creator Abraham Maslow. The concept behind this theory is that as human beings there are certain needs and interests that we seek to fulfill in a predictable priority — from physiological needs for food, water, and sleep up to social needs of belonging to a group, all the way to becoming independent, self-actualized creatures — the “best that we can be.” It’s a very interesting concept, and one that immediately came to mind in a recent Twitter discussion that I had with a fellow Product Manager named Gasca. Gasca proposed that the “intersection of business, development, and design” wasn’t really sufficient to describe what makes a Product Manager excel, and added a circular diagram to the discussion which immediately prompted me to think of the whole idea more in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy — just what is it that makes a good Product Manager better, and how can we structure our approach to building skills and refining talent to “level up” our co-workers and peers to make the me most self-actualized Product Managers we can? I don’t pretend to have the full answer, but here are some thoughts, using Maslow’s Hierarchy as a model…
One of the things that I love about the Product Management community here in Seattle is how close-knit we are, so when I reached out to Tricia Cervenan, a fellow Product Manager and General Assembly instructor, for her thoughts on the industry, the role, and what it means to her, I was not disappointed. I met Tricia a few years back at a panel discussion for General Assembly’s and have worked closely with her during our classes to help mold and modify the curriculum to best fit the needs of our students. I’m happy to have her as a returning judge for each of my courses, and more happy to mark her among my very close colleagues in the business!
In her own words:
Tricia Cervenan is a product manager at L4 Digital and part-time instructor at General Assembly. She has shipped over 15 digital products and is most proud of the teams she’s help to build while doing so. Tricia is a co-organizer for App Camp for Girls Seattle where she teaches 8th and 9th grade girls confidence and coding while taking them through the process of building iOS apps in a week. When she’s not building software or working with those new to the industry, Tricia finds joy in long distance cycling, world travel and a good cup of coffee.
There are a great many company cultures in the world that go out of their way to avoid conflict of any kind. And, while the intent is good — nobody wants to work in a combative workplace — the common practice of lumping all conflict together into a single bucket and trying to toss it out the window winds up being counterproductive in many ways. You see, conflict isn’t always a bad thing; certain types of conflict actually make us better at what we do. When we engage in constructive conflict, we hone our ideas, challenge our own assumptions and biases, and push others to do the same. In an environment completely absent all conflict, we might as well all just be “yes men” and simply rubber-stamp every idea that comes around. Successful businesses are not built that way. Here are some things to think about when it comes to engaging in constructive conflict.
We live in a day and age where there’s a ton of information and mis-information out there about pretty much every topic imaginable, and Agile development is certainly not immune to this phenomenon. In fact, anyone who looks for help in pushing through an Agile transformation in their organization is immediately confronted with a vast array of presumptions and preconceptions about what Agile is, why it matters, and most importantly what it delivers. The simple truth is that the reality of an Agile transformation — both in process and in outcome — is often so very far removed from the myth that we as Product Managers need to be ready, willing, and able to step in and manage the expectations that our stakeholders have about what’s going to happen and what they’re going to get from it. Here are three very common preconceptions that simply must be squashed for us to lead a successful cultural transformation.